One Day in RVA is a series on the fabulous folks who enrich our city on the daily.
Andrew Blossom, bookseller and video clerk.
I’m also co-editor of the short story collection Richmond Noir, from Akashic Books, and a founding editor of the literary magazine Makeout Creek. We released our latest issue – number five! – last month. And last year we began the move into book production with Jammer Slammer, written and illustrated by former Richmonder R Nicholas Kuszyk. Both are available online and at Chop Suey.
What did you do today in RVA?
Most days, I aim to wake up at 8 am, but April and I have these two wonderful cats who might decide they need to be fed anywhere from 5 am onward. On this day, a Monday, they got started early. I was in and out of sleep for a few hours, and finally up for sure by 8:30.
As I was getting ready, I managed to get on the internet long enough to learn the sad news of Les Blank’s death. Before leaving, I posted a tribute on the Video Fan’s Facebook page. Not that it amounted to much, but as you might imagine, we’re all Burden of Dreams fans over there.
Like previous contributors to this series, I’m fond of Lamplighter in the mornings, but I also very much like Can Can Brasserie. A full-service French restaurant for most of the day, Can Can opens mornings to serve bread, pastries and coffee, which is strong and good. On this day, I stopped in and ordered an iced coffee and a demi-baguette – which at Can Can means one half of a long, thin loaf of bread, served with butter.
At 10 am, I opened Chop Suey with my co-worker Ward, who is the founder and owner of the store. Chop Suey has been in Richmond for almost eleven years. We’re primarily a used bookstore, but we also carry a handpicked selection of 1200 or so new titles. Monday mornings are more focused than most on the new stuff.
So as usual we fed the cat — Won Ton, who is Richmond Famous and also a minor internet celebrity — set up the dollar books, and hunted down the day’s internet orders to pack and ship. Then Ward and I went over sales for the weekend and ordered new stock, and I prepared our weekly report to the New York Times. All the while there was the usual traffic of shoppers and folks looking to sell books. Chop Suey has an open door policy – anyone can bring in books at anytime – and for some reason, Monday mornings can get as crazy as a Saturday afternoon. Thankfully, this one was a little more peaceful.
Around 2 pm, I had lunch, homemade green salad and leftover pasta from Kuba Kuba, a Richmond institution, serving Cuban and Cuban-inspired food in the Fan neighborhood. They have a crazy delicious penne pasta dish that they serve in a bowl as big as your head, made with roasted tomatoes and peppers, portobello mushrooms, manchego cheese and fat cloves of garlic. It’s almost too much to eat in one sitting, but if you play it conservatively, you can feast for days.
After lunch, I walked over to Plan 9 Music, a block away from the bookstore. They have a great selection of used DVDs, which can be a treasure trove for restocking the Video Fan. I was looking for Fargo – our copy was recently stolen — but had no luck. While there, I purposefully avoided looking in the direction of the used horror section. It’s almost always great, and I was trying to hold onto my money.
The afternoon at Chop Suey was spent at the register and/or pricing newly-acquired used titles to go out in the store. At 6, I was through, but on Mondays and Tuesdays I work these crazy doubles where I go straight from Chop Suey to the Video Fan. I can’t remember anymore how it ended up that way, but I’ve been doing it long enough now that it seems pretty normal. So, after saying goodbye to Won Ton (which I always do), it was off to the second shift.
The Video Fan is located on Strawberry Street in the Fan neighborhood, on a block that mixes businesses and residences. It’s been there renting movies on Strawberry since 1986, and remains viable even in today’s climate due to the incredible support it receives from its neighbors and all those Richmonders who continue to value video store culture.
Next door to the Video Fan is 8 ½, an ah-mazing Italian take-out place that belongs to the same family of incredible restaurants as Mamma’zu, Edo’s Squid and the newly-opened Dinamo. We are unbelievably spoiled to eat this well all the time. You have no idea. It’s like we’ve reached some other level of being by doing hardly anything at all.
On Monday, headed to Video Fan, I stopped at 8 ½ and picked up an order of the lentil salad, made with lentils (naturally), celery, potatoes, red onions, olive oil and some kind of unholy ambrosia that turns it into just the most phenomenal thing you could ever imagine lentils being.
Sometimes, a Video Fan customer will say, “Hey, all you guys have to do is watch movies and talk about them!”
And we do work at a video store. So, you know, you got us.
But as with every retail job, there’s a lot of busywork. On Monday night, my co-worker Liz and I prepared the new releases, which go out on Tuesday mornings – not the most taxing job, but one that has a lot of little steps and takes some time, particularly if the store is busy, which luckily it was. That said, we do totally get to watch and talk about a lot of amazing things. When Liz and I work together, we tend to think of store viewing in terms of projects. We recently made our way over twelve weeks through the films of Andy Sidaris (lots of guns and bikinis), and we’ve now embarked on a new project of watching the Star Trek movies in order. On this night, it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and in my opinion it doesn’t get better than that.
Around 9, I went back over at 8 ½. There are many, many highlights to the menu, and among them is the best pizza in Richmond, done in red or white style with a thin crust and fresh, flavorful ingredients. (Here’s a definite tip: if you find yourself at any restaurant in the mamma’zu family, ask after the pizza. If it’s available, order one immediately.) While I truly love the cheesy varieties, I also really dig their vegan pizza, made with white beans and broccoletti.
Joseph, who was cooking that night, added chopped onions and a bit of lemon juice. It was great, totally delicious, and way too much to finish in one video store sitting.
We closed the store at 11 pm, and on my way home, I stopped at Joe’s Inn, another distinctly Richmond eatery, to have a beer and try to make a bit of headway in the book I’ve been reading. Joe’s is a fun, friendly spot, one of my favorite places to spend some time. On weekdays they close at midnight, so it’s also a good option for having a drink without accidentally staying out all night. But after a long day I found myself losing steam pretty quickly. So I gave up on the book and headed home, where everyone was already asleep, in hopes of catching a few hours myself before those cats of ours start, “Hey dude, feed us, feed us”.
What do you have in your fridge, usually?
Most reliably? Sriracha, San Pellegrino and PBR.
What was the last album/song you listened to?